President Donald Trump on Friday invoked the First Amendment as he decried much of the press as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” part of a blistering critique that was rowdily embraced by a conservative crowd.
“They say we can’t criticize their dishonest coverage because of the First Amendment, they always bring up the First Amendment,” Trump said in an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, mocking the media as the audience tittered.
“I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me. ... The First Amendment gives all of us, it gives it to me, it gives it to you, it gives it to all Americans, the right to speak our minds freely. It gives you the right, and me the right, to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.”
His remarks came as part of a keynote address at CPAC, held at a convention center and resort this Washington suburb. The audience, packed with grassroots activists from around the country, received him warmly, greeting him with a standing ovation and punctuating his address with applause.
“I want you all to know we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake,” Trump said. “A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. They are the enemy of the people. They have no sources, they just make them up.”
Trump, whose nascent administration has been beset by stories about internal infighting and, most recently, a report about a clash with the FBI, insisted that he was making a distinction between “fake news” and the rest of the media.
But in a tweet last week that used that term, he singled out mainstream outlets including the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. And he in fact deleted an initial tweet in order to make that list of outlets more expansive.
“I’m not against the media, I’m not against the press, I don’t mind bad stories if I deserve them,” Trump said, adding that he loved “good stories.”
Instead, he said, “I am only against the fake news media or press. Fake, fake. I’m against the people that make up stories, make up sources. You shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless you use somebody’s name.”
The White House, like most government entities, often authorizes officials to speak to reporters only on the condition of anonymity.
“A source says Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being, let them say it to my face,” Trump said.
After spending the first part of his address tearing into the media, Trump spent the rest of his speech – which clocked in at around 50 minutes – ticking through campaign promises from building a border wall to repealing the Affordable Care Act to combating terrorism.
He was repeatedly cheered by the crowd that appeared adoring of him, with some attendees quick to shout “fake news!” when he mentioned a negative development.
It was a change in the treatment Trump and his top allies have previously received at the annual conservative gathering. Last year, during the height of the presidential primaries, Trump – who skipped the conference – came in a dismal third place in its straw poll, well behind Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
At a CPAC address in 2011, his speech was interrupted by boosters of former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and largely dismissed as a sideshow, though subsequent appearances have gone better. And in previous years, Stephen Bannon — the onetime chairman of Breitbart News — held events outside of the conference, dubbed the “Uninvited.” This time around, as Trump’s chief strategist, he shared a stage with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus as a conference headliner.
“I love this place,” Trump said as he took the stage to cries of “we love you!”